Monday, May 16, 2011

Grunstein Indicts the System

Judah Grunstein sees a "system of enablers" at work. I'm of two minds about this. As Judah says, " I wonder how many people today are asking themselves if they are guilty of it with regard to Strauss-Kahn's past behavior, regardless of whether or not he himself is found guilty of the latest accusations in New York." On the other hand, when I ask myself this question, my answer is that although I had heard persistent rumors of DSK's behavior, a) I had no idea whether those rumors were true, and b) all the rumors I had heard concerned boorishness and serial seduction, not violence. In 2007, I read Jean Quatremer's blog, which provoked a furor at the time, but which did not mention the interview with Tristane Banon about which everyone is now talking. In fact, I did not hear of or see that interview until after DSK was arrested and it was mentioned by someone in my Facebook network. Nor did I know of the book Sexus politicus or its chapter on DSK's affairs.

Furthermore, if I had known about the Banon interview, I don't know what I would have made of it. There is something rather unsettling about the way she tells the story: smiling, insouciant, to a roomful of men around a candlelit dinner table, provoking their prurient smiles. She gives no sign of the trauma her mother now says she suffered. She says, "Je portais un col roulé noir, ça tripe les mecs, les cols roulés noirs." This self-presentation in itself sounds rather "enabling." So I probably would have discounted the "evidence," especially since she did not press charges, leaving the whole story in the realm of "she said--he said kept silent."

I suspect that many people in France were in this same position. We had a vague general picture of DSK as a politician who had had many women. But there are many others in this category, and in my picture of him, there was nothing to suggest violence. So, should crudeness have led me to denounce him. Is boorishness a disqualifying trait in a man who would be president and has a better claim on the job than most? Should I have been more diligent in investigating innuendo? I confess, I don't feel too guilty about my indulgence, but perhaps I'm letting myself off the hook too easily.

UPDATED: A longtime reader of the blog and a person whom I trust implicitly tells me that I am letting myself off the hook too easily, because the word "seduction" is too often used in French discussions of such behavior as a euphemism for inexcusable actions toward and treatment of women, as she can testify from personal experience. So, I stand corrected--and chastened.

1 comment:

Alex Price said...

The way Tristane Banon tells her story, the way it is received, and even the setting, a sort of faux dîner mondain to which we are invited to listen in, work to make a notion as coldly juridic as criminality an unwelcome intruder. It is insiders telling stories about insiders. The purpose of Banon’s story seems more than anything else to establish her place inside the magic circle. In this context, a powerful man trying to rip a girl’s clothes off can only be understood as passionate excess, a craziness (il est obsédé !) that demonstrate the human qualities of the god in question. Even the ending of Banon’s story -- that she consulted a lawyer and almost filed a complaint -- only serves to reinforce the credibility of her slightly incredible account. It’s not going to be easy to top that story!

The narrative that Banon’s mother later introduces – her daughter’s suffering, her depressions, her professional difficulties – is the conventional narrative of trauma suffered by the victim of an assault. A victim. That is the last thing Tristane Banon wants to be chez Ardisson. To be a victim in that setting simply doesn’t fit. It will guarantee exclusion. And so the story she tells must be a heroic one about how she almost got burned by the fire but didn’t, like the “epics” climbers tell of near disasters to show that they’ve really gone to the edge. To put it another way, Banon uses (or at least tries to use) her story for her own, presumably careerist, purposes.

So we have two narratives of Banon’s encounter with DSK. Which one is correct? Does one exclude the other? I don’t think that it does. It seems entirely possible to me that both narratives are true.